Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

Outer and Inner Healing

“It’s the feisty ones who do best.”

Yes. I was feisty—I would fight to regain all I lost. I would reclaim my place in the world.

My neuropsychologist’s chair creaked as he leant forward and added, “Using compensation techniques and coping mechanism will become second nature.

I was skeptical—everything was a struggle. I had so much to overcome, my difficulties processing input, my damaged ability to think sequentially, my attention span was abysmal, and I thought so slowly.

My neuropsychologist suggested that I play the Simon to increase my speed of thinking and repair my damaged sequential thinking. He also advised me to play brain games on the computer to improve my focus and short term memory.

He encouraged me to keep a memory pad. “Write everything down in it, appointments, conversations. Everything. And have it with you at all times.”

Everything? That didn’t seem humanly possible, let alone for me—I would lose focus, and veer off into the weeds whenever I had to pause to record stuff in the pad. And I wouldn’t always be in a setting to write things down.

I had a lot of trouble processing large volumes of input such as directions and instructions. I panicked and froze when faced with a complex task—he advised me to chunk things down to manageable steps.  But when I panicked, coherent thought was beyond me—I certainly didn’t have the wherewithal to reason through breaking up overwhelming tasks.

I was used to thinking very quickly. Now, still in the habit of thinking quickly, I made numerous mistakes. My neuropsychologists kept reminding me to focus on accuracy rather than speed. But focusing on anything was challenging.

How could these techniques possibly become habits?

But I was determined to heal—I chose to ignore my skepticism. I would fight with everything I had to heal physically, cognitively, and emotionally. I would not allow the bloody brain to defeat me.

I attended therapy sessions once a week to quiet my emotional turmoil. I exercised every day to improve strength and stamina, and I went on weekly walks to recover my balance. I played brain games on my Nintendo DS, to address my damaged sequential thinking and increase speed, to improve memory and attentions span, and to reopen blocked neuropathways, and open new ones to work around those that couldn’t be fixed.

Between my emotional reactions to my difficulties, medical appointments, and rehabilitation, my entire world revolved around the bloody brain. Everything was about me, me, me.

In time, the challenge of managing and remedying my losses became easier. I could now see my progress. Along the way, my awareness of my surroundings grew. I learnt to connect better with the world around me, more tuned in. I became more empathetic.

I worked hard to recover and reclaim place. In addition to exercising daily to regain strength and stamina. I worked to relearn arithmetic, college algebra, and calculus. In addition, I was seeing a psychotherapist and psychiatrist to manage my depression and anxiety.

Coping mechanisms and compensations techniques did become in fact become second nature, as my neuropsychologist had promised.

Eight months after the surgeries, I rejoined my dragon boat team—dragon boating addressed all three aspects of my recovery. I enjoyed improving my skill as a paddler and the team work—focusing on staying in sync with the other paddlers helped increase my post surgeries short attention span. Following the coach’s instructions improved my damaged sequential thinking. I became physically fit to a level I had never achieved before. In addition, the supportive community of dragon boaters helped me through the emotionally rough patches—I felt safe, accepted for who I was now, respected for my prowess as a dragon boater. The adrenaline rushing through my systems during races, brought me intense, vivid joy. When in the boat, I felt very much alive, whole, unbroken, empowered.

            In my past life, I loved dragon boating, but now, it became a passion—a week without at least three practices felt empty, lifeless.

            Unfortunately, four years (or was it five?) into my recovery, I had to quit the team due to persistent shoulder injuries. Not wanting to lose what I had gained through the sport, I searched for another form of exercise, one that was easier on my body. I tried exercising in a gym and later Pilates. But neither one could replace dragon boating, the passion and joy, the feeling of empowerment.

I toyed with the idea of doing yoga. But my poor balance would be an issue, bending too far backward caused vertigo, and putting my head down triggered splitting headaches. A woman from Pilates class alleviated my concerns—she recommended a particular studio, Yoga on Centre. “Ask for Sara. She does yoga therapy. She’s amazing.”

I perused the Yoga on Centre website. And there it was—a class entitled Yoga Therapy and Rehabilitation, taught by Sara Azarius. I started attending the sessions within the month.

Sara, was indeed an amazing instructor. In addition to being knowledgeable, she maintained a wonderful balance between being demanding and supportive. 

By the end of my first year practicing yoga, my balance improved. Sara addressed my headaches, my paddling-related shoulder injuries as well as back problems I had for decades.

Several months in, I noticed that not only was my body responding to the exercises—something inside me was happening. Certainly the breathing exercises were helping me quiet my mind but there was something else.

It was as if yoga was healing an aspect of myself that until now I had not been aware was broken. No. That didn’t make sense—I was so far ahead in my recovery. I had felt broken during my first three years into recovery, but I certainly wasn’t now. I actually felt great, I liked myself better as a person, I was more authentic, more content.

When I thought about it some more, I realized that physical, cognitive, and psychological recovery weren’t all there was to my journey. The pieces of the puzzle started clicking into place—I was finally ready to admit to the fact that the bloody brain had damaged me at all levels. Through yoga I was embarking on the next part of my healing, that recovering physically and cognitively was only the first part.

I was now where I needed to be.